Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Oliver Wolcott, Junior, 29 April 1796

From Oliver Wolcott, Junior

Phila. Apl. 29. 1796

Dr. Sir


I have recd. your favour of the 20th. The affair with Bond1 stands thus, & is truly attended with some perplexing circumstances.

The communication states,2 that provisional orders have been given for the surrender of the Posts whenever the House of Representatives shall have indicated an intention to give effect to the Treaty & when an article shall have been negociated explanatory of the sense of the two nations that the 8th article of our Treaty with the Indians3 shall not abrogate from the rights stipulated in favour of British subjects by the 3d. article of the Treaty with Great Britain.4 The style of the Memorial is respectful & the doubtful article in the Indian Treaty is attributed to want of information on our part of the Stipulation in the B. Treaty.

I have thought that a declaration by the Executive, that we admit the doctrine of the Law of nations, ought to be sufficient, & that insisting upon an explanatory article was pressing a point rather unreasonably against us. As however Mr. Bond says that he is instructed to insist on an article, & as the terms can be adjusted so as compleatly to save the national honour, perhaps we are bound to consent.5 I feel however that the Executive ought not to have been embarrassed at present.

There being two points to be settled, before we obtain the Posts, one concerning the Legislation & the other the Senate, it has appeared to me that a partial communication would be improper, & that a general one would be inexpedient. A message to the House would moreover unnecessarily stimulate the passions of the opposition. A resolution for giving effect to the Treaty is under consideration.6 The presumption ought to be that they will do their duty. On this ground, the Senate have forborne to connect a provision for the B. Treaty with the bills which have been sent up respecting the other Treaties.7 The principle which has governed the Senate, if correct, requires the Executive to forbear his interference.

Some difficulty may be apprehended in obtaining a ratification of the explanatory article in the present state of the Senate, but it will be surmounted.

I think the government will succeed in the present contest, but it remains doubtful whether order can be long preserved. Unless a radical change of opinion can be effected in the Southern States, the existing establishments will not last eighteen months. The influence of Messrs. Gallatin, Madison & Jefferson must be diminished, or the public affairs will be brought to a stand. No proper attention is paid to the current business of the Government by the House; every thing is in the hands of the Committees, nothing is understood & few matters of importance in a train for being compleated. Before the Treaty question commenced, the Treaty furnished a pretence for delay—the length of the session & the languor of the members will furnish another pretext, after that question shall have been determined.

Mr. Patten,8 the Post Master, communicated to me yester day a singular circumstance.9 Some time since, letters were delivered into his Office, for Robert Cowper & a Doctor Graham of Suffolk in Virginia. By some means Mr. Patten discovered that these Letters had been brought from Virginia, & this he says induced him to suspect some mischief & to write to Virginia. I have seen the answer which he (Patten) recd. from Robt. Cowper in which he says that the Letter to him was signed with your Name—that to Doct. Graham was signed with the name of Mr. Van Allen of Congress. It seems that the Letters were forgeries, & contain something which if true might injure yours & Mr. V Allens characters. This is doubtless some Jacobin Trick. I shall try to detect it & give you information. At present I have no particulars.

I am truely yrs.

Oliv. Wolcott Jr.

Alex Hamilton Esq

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford.

1Phineas Bond.

2On March 26, 1796, Bond sent Timothy Pickering a memorial concerning a possible conflict between Article 8 of the Treaty of Greenville with the Indians northwest of the Ohio River and Article 3 of the Jay Treaty. See H to Wolcott, April 20, 1796, note 2. On April 9, 1796, Bond again wrote to Pickering: “Having, within these few Days, received Dispatches from the Rt. Hon: Lord Dorchester, His Majesty’s Governor General of Canada, intimating his Lordship’s Readiness to surrender, at the Period prescribed by the Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, lately concluded between His Majesty and the United States, the Posts on the American Side of the Boundary Line, assigned to the United States by the Treaty of Peace; and finding that his Lordship has, already, given such preparatory Directions, as appeared to his Lordship, best calculated for the Completion of this Purpose, it seems expedient that I should, thus formally & explicitly, communicate to this Government … that any ulterior Measures, which His Majesty’s Governor General is to pursue, must be considered as provisional.

“The Period, limited for the Surrender of the Posts, being so near at Hand, a precise Declaration of the Contingencies, upon which such ulterior Measures are to depend, may be satisfactory & eventually serve to prevent Inconvenience.…

“It … becomes indispensably necessary, that it should be ascertained, that this Treaty is, not only, held to be valid, and of binding Force, on the United States, but that every expedient legal Provision will be made, to carry the Stipulations of the Treaty into Effect, on the Part of this Government.

“The other Matter to be adjusted … is the Explanation, relative to the Indian Treaty, which was the Subject of my Memorial of the 26th Ult: about which, I was happy to find, from the Consideration you had given to my Application, you did not apprehend any Difficulty could arise.…

“As soon as these Contingencies shall have been brought to such an Issue, as shall be consistent with His Majesty’s reasonable Expectations, & correspondent with His Majesty’s sincere Wish to maintain Peace & Friendship with the United States, His Majesty’s Governor General is authorized, and will be immediately ready, to form an Arrangement with the Person, the President of the United States may be pleased to appoint, to concert such Measures to effectuate the Provisions of the Treaty, as may be compatible with mutual Convenience & Accomodation.” (LS, RG 59, Notes from the British Legation in the United States to the Department of State, 1791–1906, Vol. 2, January 10, 1796–November 19, 1803, National Archives.)

3For Article 8 of the Treaty of Greenville, see H to Wolcott, April 20, 1796, note 3.

5An explanatory article was signed by Pickering and Bond on May 4, 1796. On May 5 President Washington submitted the article to the Senate (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Foreign Relations, I, 551), which approved it on May 9 by a vote of 19 to 5 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 207). For the text of the explanatory article, see Miller, Treaties, II description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington, 1931), II. description ends , 346–47.

6On April 29, 1796 (or the same day on which Wolcott wrote the above letter to H), the Committee of the Whole in the House of Representatives adopted by a vote of 50 to 49 a resolution “That it is expedient to make the necessary resolutions for carrying the Treaty with Great Britain into effect” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States: with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 1280). The following day the House passed the resolution by a vote of 51 to 48 (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States: with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 1291). See the introductory note to H to Washington, March 7, 1796.

7See H to Rufus King, April 15, 1796, note 6, and H to King, April 20, 1796, notes 10 and 11. On May 4, 1796, “The bill sent from the House of Representatives for concurrence, entitled ‘An act making an appropriation towards defraying the expenses which may arise in carrying into effect the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, made between the United States and the King of Great Britain,’ was read the second time, and referred to the committee appointed the 20th of April, on the several bills making appropriations for carrying into effect the Treaties between the United States and the King of Spain, between the United States and the Dey and Regency of Algiers, and between the United States and certain Indian tribes, to consider and report thereon to the Senate” (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States: with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , V, 79).

8Robert Patton was the postmaster at Philadelphia.

9The remainder of this paragraph concerns two forged letters. See Robert Cowper to H, April 16, 1796.

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